Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has announced plans to save around 150 grassroots music venues from insolvency while cashflow is limited for venues shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dowden released £2.25m for the sector from the overall £1.57bn fund announced on 5 July to shore up the arts in the UK.
“Without our grassroots music venues, we wouldn’t have the Beatles, Adele or Elton John,” he said. “Nearly all our globally successful music stars started out at UK clubs and live music venues – and we must make sure those organisations weather the Covid storm.” He said he was “working to deliver the rest of the £1.57bn emergency package as quickly as possible”.
At-risk venues will receive grants of up to £80,000 each to fund running costs. The funds will be disbursed via Arts Council England, and are only available to English venues; Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are managing their own emergency funding initiatives, totalling £188m across the arts.
The news was welcomed by the Music Venue Trust (MVT), the industry organisation that represents more than 800 independent venues around the UK. MVT’s Beverly Whitrick said the organisation “warmly welcomes this essential funding for desperate grassroots music venues facing urgent, short-term challenges. Without this help, the sector would be facing a wave of permanent closures.”
MVT chief executive Mark Davyd also welcomed the funding, but added: “We urgently need information and guidance on when and how venues can access the larger fund, which is so vital to safeguarding their longer term futures.”
A government announcement said it expected venues to receive funds “within the next few weeks. Further details on how organisations can apply to the £1.57bn package will be released in the coming days.”
Cradle of success … a wall of fame at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters
Singer-songwriter James Bay said the funding would “make a real difference, ensuring we do not lose these spaces – it’s so galvanising and uplifting to know more help is on its way”. Grime rapper Novelist said it would “maintain the lifeblood of these types of venues … it’s so important to preserve the heritage for future generations … In addition, for people who live in the more remote areas of the country, small venues are literally a treasure.”
The government funding comes as some venues prepare to reopen on 1 August. Further easing of lockdown restrictions means that concert venues can reopen along with other leisure facilities such as casinos and bowling alleys, though nightclubs must remain closed.
There is nervousness, though, about the financial cost of opening with social distancing, and the wariness of audiences. An MVT survey in June found that even for venues that could feasibly open with social distancing measures, 96% said it would be financially harmful to do so because of the costs outweighing the number of people they could accommodate. Also in June, it was found that only 36% of the public felt it would be safe to attend a concert at that point.
The theatre sector is also concerned about reopening with reduced numbers, with Jon Morgan, director of Theatres Trust, saying when the 1 August reopening date was announced in mid-July, “for most theatres it will not be economically viable to reopen with the 30%-40% audience required under social distancing”.
Earlier this week, two Manchester venues, Gorilla and the Deaf Institute, were saved from closure after buyers were found. The previous owners had announced their closure “against the backdrop of Covid-19 and the enforced closure of all of our sites”.